Immunotherapies impress in key lung cancer trials


In the study, Merck's Keytruda, given with standard chemotherapy, cut in half the risk of dying or having the cancer worsen, compared with chemo alone after almost one year.

Another study, meanwhile, discovered that a combination of immunotherapy drugs, namely Opdivo and Yervoy by Bristol-Myers Squibb, functioned better than chemotherapy in delaying the worsening of cancer in advanced lung cancer patients whose tumors contain many gene flaws.

"The remarkable results of the team led by Drew Pardoll reflects both the power of collaboration between Stand Up To Cancer, the Cancer Research Institute, and the institutions and researchers participating in this Dream Team, as well as Stand Up's funding model which integrates semi-annual, rigorous, in-person reviews, enabling teams to pivot to where the science leads, and to allocate Team resources to trials which are most likely to benefit patients", said Nobel Laureate and Chairperson of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Institute professor at the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. This is a huge progress that will certainly help lung cancer patients a lot more.

Dr. Leena Gandhi of the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health and colleagues treated more than 600 lung cancer patients with standard chemo plus either a placebo or Keytruda, one of the immunotherapy drugs. In addition, the patients' immune systems also likely destroyed straggler tumor cells still circulating in the blood system, which can later take hold and lead to recurrence and metastasis. The results of this trial have the potential to change the treatment paradigm for patients with nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer in the first-line setting, including patients whose tumors are either PD-L1 negative or are untested.

The findings represent another step forward for immunotherapy, which has been making steady gains against a number of different cancers. "It's not a home run yet but it's a pretty good double".

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Monday at a conference of the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago.

And no one can say how long these patients will live before their cancer comes back. But it turns out to be a reasonable strategy. More than 4 percent of that group developed lung inflammation and three patients died of it. Herbst compares it with inflammation around a cut, which marshals the immune system into action, only in this case the wound being targeted is debris from dead cancer cells. SU2C is now funding four Cancer Interception teams focusing on lung and pancreatic cancer.

A separate study looked at some other immunotherapy drugs. "I personally think immunotherapy [is] going to be making the biggest difference over time in cancer treatment", he adds. And the drugs are expensive: Treatment costs about $100,000 a year.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death globally, causing 1.7 million deaths a year. However, as in the latest study, the effects frequently don't persist for most patients. Patients with those mutations (called EGFR and ALK) were not included in this study, and instead were referred to treatment with the drugs that target their mutation.